Daily Delhi

There are times when people ask me what it’s like to live in Delhi and I have nothing to say except, ‘You’d have to be here to see it.’ Sometimes it’s simply indescribable. And other times, well, I’m just speechless. So, I got into the habit of taking Blackberry pics to share what a typical day in the life is like in this town.  Enjoy the images and see if you can help me come up with the vocabulary to describe my daily Delhi.

Hindu Temple

Hindu Temple in Khirki Extension

Anais Nin

Billboard at Three Windows at Khoj

Graffiti

Graffiti in Saket Area

Sari Design Studio

Sari Design Studio in Shahpur Jat

Neighborhood Girl

Neighborhood Girl

Shahpur Jat Lady of the House

Shahpur Jat Lady of the House

Tailor Supply Store

Tailor Supply Store

What's left of a Haveli

What’s left of a Haveli

Vegetable Market

Vegetable Market

Tihar Jail Store

Tihar Jail Store

South Indian Dinner

South Indian Dinner

Spice Jet

Spice Jet

Rastrapati Bhavan

Rastrapati Bhavan

Goat in a Rickshaw

Goat in a Rickshaw

Hummingbird

Hummingbird in Smokehouse Deli in Khan Market

Flower Stand

Flower Stand

Aloo Tokri Chaat

Aloo Tokri Chaat

Chana Bhatura

Chana Bhatura

Baraat

Baraat – Bridegroom’s Wedding Procession

Food Mubarak!

Fasting has a way of resurrecting old foodgasms. I find myself thinking about iftar very early on in the day. Often I oscillate between wondering how I can avoid spending my whole paycheck on a fancy dinner and wondering how fast I can make microwaveable oatmeal. But there are glimpses in the middle of great food experiences of yesteryear, which then lead me to wonder where I should go to break my fast. There are many places to choose from, but I’m drawn to locales where the food is delicious, the prices are decent, and the portion sizes are disciplined.

Today’s musing led me to list my favorite restaurants from around the world. I’ve tried to be as inclusive as possible of all my travels but, so as not to taint your experience in any way and also not to get too hungry too early in my fast, I’ll give you recommendations and reviews from others. Happy global hunger hunting!

chefette

Barbados: 10 Best says “Chefette is a small fast food chain, and there are 14 locations all over the island. It’s not particularly fast, but the prices are reasonable and the food is quite good. Tasty chicken and chips is the staple offering, but the “broasted” chicken sandwich and the various rotis are also satisfying. Several locations have drive-throughs and playgrounds for the kids, and some also serve pizza, barbecue or ice cream.”

framboise

France: Creperie Framboise in Paris really got me to appreciate crepes for their decadence. Before this they were just thin pancakes with nutella inside:  -_- (boring face). After Framboise, I see crepes and I smile. 

escale caraibe

L’escale Caraibe on Rue de Guerre was a delightful treat for me, someone who believes I know Caribbean food. Trying the cuisine of Martinique & Guadeloupe was a culinary pleasure of awesome proportions. Yum Yum!

el perro

Germany: Leave it to me to find an awesome Spanish restaurant in the middle of Munich. But, hey, que será será. El Perro y El Griego is as good as I say it is.

 

 

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Grenada: This isn’t a restaurant review. Grenada produces two good food items – nutmeg (who uses nutmeg though, really?) and thee best chocolate I’ve had in all the world. Don’t take my word for it!

 

 

sanchos logoIndiaSancho’s is in Mumbai, and here’s what the good folks at Zomato have to say: “Bandra rather Mumbai has its fair share of Mexican restaurants, but not an overwhelming amount, fading in comparison to the number of Chinese, Sports Bars and Sea Food institutions in town. Broadly speaking, Sancho’s falls firmly in the “Awesome” category. More specifically, the food is “Delicious,” albeit generally a bit too hyped given the prices.”

sant lucias

Santa Lucia is in Fort Aguada, Goa and my mouth is watering just thinking of their Goan fish curry. Check out the reviews here.

 

 

mashua

Netherlands: Mashua in Amsterdam has me reeling from great cocktails to Quinoa Risotto. Oy vey! Gianguido says, “It is Peruvian fusion food. The menu is quite short, which I actually like it. Ample choice of whine.. which I also like 🙂 I went for Ceviche as starter… it was nicely prepared with all the whistles and bells…. I could feel a bit too much the lemon for my personal taste, but over all well done. My main course was a great boneless chicken leg prepared with cumin crust/sauce with wild spinach and young potatoes. it was really delish!” Need I say more?

 


tongue thaiThailand:  Tongue Thai in Bangkok had me with the vintage pics, the jazz music and the authentic food. I went back twice in three days.

 

 

The Corson Building picnic

United States: The Corson Building in Seattle is exactly how I’d want to run a restaurant, if ever I wanted to run a restaurant. Read up for yourself. And here’s what 50 Shades of Delicious has got to say…

 


sala 1 9

Sala One Nine is my favorite restaurant in New York City, which means its probably my favorite restaurant in the whole wide world. Zagat says 90% of people like the restaurant.

 

 

And with that, I’m famished. It’s time to head off to the Blue Nile for some injera stuffed goodness. Ramzan Mubarak!

Social consciousness disclaimer: Everything I’ve had to say about Trayvon Martin trial/fiasco has already been said.

Websites We Love!

Unknown-4Not all websites are created equal. I talked to some people yesterday who told me that they spent weeks trying to get a passport in India, because the website only functioned for appointment scheduling from 5:59pm to 6:00pm. I am not making this up. Having a whack ass website can really kill interest in a product or service, and – frankly – having a great website can convince a consumer that poo-poo paste is foie gras. This is the nature of web-appeal, defined as the Babyface approach to internet usage (P.S. You can’t really snap your fingers with gloves on. P.P.S. *watch the video*).

Easy to use, giving loads of bang for their – mainly free – buck, here are five websites that have me wow-ed:

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Everybody knows I’m a http://www.mint.com slave, but now I’ve become just as addicted to award wallet. Every credit card, store, hotel, airline has some kind of reward program and, really, who can keep up? But these entities pray that you never keep up, so that the benefits expire and dissolve into thin air. You, my friend, have no reason to be a victim of reward expiration ever again. There is a rub though – the major airlines do not allow http://www.awardwallet.com to link to their sites, so you have to manually load your point balance and periodically update it. It’s a little bit of pain for a lot of free gain. It’s simple to add programs. And once you get everything loaded you’re more likely to keep track of your earnings rather than lament all the miles and hotel stays laying in wait in your spam.

Unknown-3Akanksha is a great a charity and social-service program based in the Mumbai-Pune area. Using a charitable teaching platform, college students or grads can volunteer to teach students in any particular field. Further, the organization raises funds though art projects and sales, corporate giving, charitable donation, and paid summer workshops. The stores to buy student produced merchandise are apparently just in the Mumbai area, but hopefully they’ll expand to other places and an online store (fingers crossed). Either way, the site is well-organized, easy to navigate, and clear to understand – a huge boon to donor confidence.

UnknownThis site is no hidden gem – it’s already been out there for a long, long time. Actually, it was about five years ago when I discovered it and thought “Urban Outfitters, the Salvation Army, and ebay had a web baby!” This site is a clearing house for hand-made and antique items. Selling is as cheap and easy as on ebay. And if you’re a buyer, you can practically find anything you could ever dream of. This year alone I bought custom rubber stamps, a Taj Mahal wall decal, and a bearded baby cap. And I’ve been eyeing a cast iron oven roaster pan. Who said being a hippie consumer was over rated?

flavorpill-logoI have to admit that I’m not in love with the email newsletters from http://www.flavorpill.com. That may have something to do with the fact that I signed up for four cities at once, and right now I don’t live in any of them (I bet you can’t guess which four!). Let’s just say it’s information overload about cool events I can’t go to. But, if http://www.meetup.com and Yelp are sites you already frequent, flavorpill.com is in the natural progression of your city search. They always have interesting event listings and off kilter articles about books and culture. Word to the wise, http://www.flavorpill.com’s culture blog is flavorwire.com. And http://www.flavorwire.com is where I learned that I’ve read two of the 15 books they say you should NOT read in your 20s. I already read one in high school and have another on my shelf right now – just ripe for the reading. Thirty is, in fact, NOT the new twenty.

Unknown-2To bring out the inner linguist in you, I suggest you bookmark the BBC’s world news language service. I’ve never found a more useful website for getting your bi-lingual on! The BBC offers their world coverage in many different languages (and variations of languages). Now the trick is that you should have at least a basic understanding of the newly acquired language, as well as some basic knowledge of current events in the country/region being covered. Hence, you actually should read some articles in English before listening to (or reading) story in the language of your choice. So after your Rosetta Stone courses are done, give the BBC a whirl to see just how much you’ve retained!

Don’t take my word for it. Try these sites for yourself and tell me what you think. I’m not getting paid (or gaining rewards points) for getting you to test them out. But, if you like ’em I gain bragging rights and e-street cred – what more could a blogger ask for?

Mountain Climbing

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Visions of Shimla were the most mesmerizing images I had of India before actually coming here to live. I’d watched a bloody awful film that was British-produced and blasted boring about a bloke retracing Mark Twain’s train travels. I recall that the toy train was traveling so slowly that people would get off, walk alongside it for a while, buy a samosa and a chai from a train-side stall and hop back on the train to munch. I was fascinated by the train, not the movie.

I was very motivated to take the toy train, but very unmotivated to take the real train that would get me from Delhi to Kalka to meet the Kalka to Shimla toy train. I’ve heard lots of yucky things about Indian trains. I’ve read the Namesake. And being trapped in a moving vehicle with no sanitary bathroom is not how I like to begin my vacations. Suffice it to say that watching this is the closest I came to actually taking the toy train. I went by car.

In my head Shimla was a mountain oasis, peaceful, quiet = very un-Delhi like. I’d associated peace and quiet with a sense of simplicity. I expected Shimla to have less. Less people, less cars, less traffic, less telephone poles, less stray dogs, less – all around. I was shocked to find that in this case less was actually more. At some point when we were able to drive at night and the roads were visible and passable, it clicked. The British were here!

It was in Shimla that the British spent summers away from the heat of the capital. Relocating the capital meant that whatever functions were possible in Delhi had to be possible in Shimla. And Shimla certainly appears to reflect all those possibilities. The technology seems on par, the access to stuff and things appears similar. But, I can only speak for the tourist experience. (I’ve heard from people who live in Himachal Pradesh that living in those mountains doesn’t offer much by way of upward mobility for the average citizen.)

Life thrives around Mall Road and the tourist experience lived there. There’s a lift (elevator) that takes you up and down the mountain for 10 rupees each way. Tickets can not be purchased in advance (I’m not sure why). It is possible to walk the stairs, but not many choose that route for obvious reasons.  Mall Road’s pedestrian walkways were a welcomed break from Delhi’s daredevil traffic. I forgot how much I like to walk. Aside from the products at the Honey Hut and local fruit wines, I wouldn’t say that there’s much on Mall Road that can’t be bought in any other north Indian city. But it was certainly pleasant to give a gander. The food isn’t much to write home about, but it is cheaper than I expected for a tourist haunt.  After all though, no one heads north for cheap eats or less traffic. They go because the people are nice, and certainly less aggressive than what I’ve become accustomed to. The views are amazing and the greenery is simply gorgeous.

I may have been just another of the over 2 million tourists who travel to Shimla each year, but the three day trip was two years in the making and well worth the nine hour drive. While I didn’t actually get my arse on the bloody train, I am really happy that I finally did make it to the city of Shimla. It is there that I was able to celebrate how far I’d come since those initial days in Washington when I found out that I was destined for Delhi living. To mark the occasion, I downed three bottles of fruit wine while doing this:

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I woke up the next morning to this:

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…and immediately thought, “bloody hell!” Do I really have to go back to Delhi?!

Jai Ethiopia!

ehtiopia 6We simply can’t win ’em all. We try and we try hard. But sometimes we look in the mirror and we realize we’ve been beat. This is the story with me and Addis Ababa. I tried. I tried hard to get there. I outshone them all. I was qualified. I was enamored. I had the skills. I had the ambition. And in the end, fate had other plans for me. So, Ethiopia is not in my immediate future… or so I thought.

Here in Delhi, I’ve been running a foodie group that tours new restaurants on a monthly basis. This is an expat delight. Why? Because most Indians see dhabas as delicatessens and the foreign palette is completely different. We are used to Chinese food that is authentic, not fusion. Or Thai food that isn’t confused with Japanese and Parsi menu items. The foreign community here in Delhi is quite worldly. Otherwise we’d all be eating croissants comfortably in Paris and not eating chappatis and channa in cramped casas in Delhi. Ya dig? We’re not dumb. We’re not underexposed. We have made a choice to do things the hard way and we’re united here under the umbrella of ‘oh, fuck, what did I just do to myself?’

Anyways, it is June. And June’s Delhi Deli locale was the Ethiopian Cultural Centre. Why? Was I trying to undo the karmic forces that forced me out of Addis? Was I trying to woo my way back into Amharic‘s outstretched arms? Not really. New restaurants in Delhi are few and far between, because they don’t last long. The food quickly goes to shit. The chefs move on too quickly or are spread too thin, too early. Nobody bothers with Parisian prices for Punjabi food. It doesn’t make sense and restaurants disappear or reinvent themselves or dissolve into nothing. But, I arranged a group of 30+ foreigners and city newbies to visit this restaurant to see for ourselves what all the hype was about, see the house that hullabaloo built.

ethiopia 1

What we found was one of the very best restaurants in town. I, who spent two years living in Washington, D.C. (the Ethiopian exodus capital of the world) was surprised that the injera was not a scam. There was a lovely Ethiopian female chef in the kitchen who greeted us with a smile and no pretense. No bullshit. She spoke no English and clearly no Hindi, but she took a break from her injera press long enough to greet me and my friends with a smile and warmth, as if we had walked into her home – the same kitchen where she fed her babies. What came did not disappoint.

ethiopia 3

The servers were a little absent-minded, but significantly more careful with customer service than the vast majority of Delhi establishments. They paid us the attention we needed, as bill paying customers, and took heed whenever someone demanded, ‘Where are my tibs?!’ When we all needed individual bills – a huge mathematical feat of galactic proportions here in Delhi – they agreed with no hesitation. And they made good on it. Actually, one couple never got a bill and they walked out without paying for four dishes! Not one, but fourrrrrrr! Well, okay!

ethiopia 4

We will be back. I certainly recommend that anyone interested in food made with love and hospitality give the Ethiopian Cultural Centre a gander. I don’t promise that it’s as good as on 9th and U Street, or in the heart of Seattle, but on this side of the Indian Ocean, I doubt you’ll find a better destination to spend a lovely evening with those you care about.

No doubts about it!

Tourist Fatigue

I am tired. I am tired of hotel lobbies. I am tired of wake up calls from hotel lobbies. I am tired of people offering to take my bags to and from hotel lobbies. I am tired of guidebooks on the front desks of hotel lobbies. I am tired of the insinuation that I should see something outside of the hotel lobby. I am tired of being a tourist.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining. Please don’t confuse my fatigue for blame against this lovely town or country. I remember having this same feeling when I lived in Spain. Around month seven I was pretty sure that I had seen every Catholic church in the entire north east. And I was also sure that if I saw one more rendition of Mary and baby Jesus, I would jump off the rock of Gibraltar. These days it’s not the Holy Trinity that makes me want to drown in the Indian Sea. It’s forts and palaces.

But, I didn’t realize how exhausted I was until I arrived in Hyderabad and decided that I didn’t want to see anything. I didn’t leave the hotel all week, actually. My friends chided me for not being more motivated. They wanted to take me out, but chose the inopportune time of 4pm during an Indian summer. So, we all quickly undecided and postponed for cooler times to come – neveruary.

I don’t know how to break the rut of tourist fatigue. I don’t think there’s a way, exactly, except to just give in and be exhausted. Forgive yourself just this one time. Know that the city won’t collapse around you just because you didn’t see the Mecca Masjid. You’re not a bad person because you came to town and didn’t see the Golconda Fort or the Falaknuma Palace. Being a tourist is supposed to be enjoyable. When it stops being fun, you should stop yourself from faking like it is. Here are the top five things I do when I have stopped being a tourist. Maybe you frequent fliers will recognize this in yourselves and prevent the guilt from hitting you like a ton of Fodor’s guides. Just open up a Lonely Planet book on the plane ride back, read about it, and say you did it.

This is how I know it’s bad…

1- I swing by the grocery store on my way to the hotel.  Straight from the airport, I have the car drop by a grocery store along the way, so I don’t have to ever leave the hotel once I check in. I don’t pretend like I want to try the newest restaurants reviewed by Food & Wine magazine. I really just want to eat cereal out of the mugs they left in the room for self-brewed coffee. I don’t kid myself.

2 – Download free episodes from itunes. A girl can’t live on BBC World News and CBeebies alone. I load up on all the free episodes that itunes is giving away. If they’re giving, I’m taking. And I watch with reckless abandon.

3- Always keep the door on DO NOT DISTURB. Always. Do you hear me? Always…except when they catch me in the hallway and ask if I’ve run out of potable drinking water. Then, and only then, do I consider taking off the prohibitive sign. But even then, I think long and hard.

4- Tip well. When I’m not planning to spend much time in the hotel, then screw ’em. I’m not making that much trouble anyway. I’m out being a tourist! But, when I plan to stay camped out in my hotel room, wrapped in the hotel bath robe, using up all the shower gel and asking for boutique pillows at odd times of night – I tip well. We’re going to be seeing an awful lot of each other. And I don’t want them to steal my stuff or spit in my food.

5. Carry lots of books. I know I sound like a dinosaur for saying that I read books at all, but some of us actually enjoy paper. You people with thick corneas can perhaps handle all that backlight. I digress. On this last trip, I brought one self help book, one book of short stories, one novel, and two autobiographies. Two books, I had already read before I arrived, but I needed to write an article about them while on the road – done by day three of week one. In that same one week, I read two of the other books and kinda gave up on the last one. I’ll get to “Dreams of my Father” one day, but on this trip it too was fatigue enhancing.

My traveling friend, don’t be bullied into being the good tourist. You don’t owe any city the effort needed to get over your malaise. It can certainly be inconveniently timed, but being tired on the road isn’t an indication that you must fight through it. Just like when you’re at home, sometimes fatigue is a good indication that you should rest and be still. 

May the power of the do not disturb sign be with you.

Oh, Delhi you slay me!

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Well the time has come to leave India; all I can say is, “Oh, Delhi you slay me.” I’m not sure what it is about India, but it is surely a special place. While I racked my brain about what to write it was clear that I wouldn’t be able to fully explain my feelings on all the events of this “vacation.” It is often said that the journey is equally important as the destination. So, lets begin with the journey from Indira Gandhi International airport. We were pulled over in our taxi by a motorcycle cop with no siren and no tickets, and eventually let go without any penalty. All the while I’m thinking, “this is a pure waste of time.” Apparently this is the case with many things here. So before I continue here’s my disclaimer: I cannot be held responsible for any confusion as a result of the lack of order in this publication. It is an accurate reflection of this trip.

Indian culture is the product of several religions, languages, and power shifts over centuries. And there’s finally English colonization. As a historian, I would love to say this explains the huge socio-economic gap that exists here, but I truly don’t know. The poverty I’ve seen here exponentially outshines the best “Feed the Children” infomercial. There are literally people who sleep on the ground feet away from Lamborghinis and Bentleys.  I assume this is why everything here has a price. Free parking is under the control of self-proclaimed ‘attendants,’ who will flatten your tires if you don’t pay 10 rupees (2 cents). At every historical sight there was some guy wanting his cut. The City Palace in Jaipur boasts a bathroom guy, parking fellow, and even a perfect spot for picture men who double as guides. My sister says that’s why it takes so long to get things done, because there are so many people who need a piece of the action. I’m not sure what it is, but when every job is done with primitive technology what can you expect? Five guys painted lines on the street, which are clearly just a suggestion to the worst drivers in the world (congratulations New Yorkers). Not everything about India and Delhi is bad, but it just takes a bit of patience to see past it.

While here I had the pleasure of dining with a diplomat and his wife in a home that had more servants than I have immediate family members. Any who at this dinner it was clear that Delhi was like an onion and I would only understand it if I peeled back the layers. Similar to eating the street food here, I would have to be a native or extremely bold to try it. Let’s assume I was the latter.

So with my backpack, father and horn happy driver I hit the streets. Vasant Vihar (my area of residence) was littered with small embassies. Most only having one guard in a small booth, which surprised me. In a walk through old Delhi there were tombs that remained from the beginning of Delhi’s existence. It came as a shock that these beautiful structures were only accessible by walking through a maze of side streets and tight back alleys that played host to butchers, barbershops, bakeries, and even a goat with a coat (see above). There were no short cuts taken in the rewiring of streetlights to provide energy to this prehistoric part of town either. Survival is contingent upon family unity. While family does not always constitute shared blood, the love is no different.

So I leave India with my sense of family bonds renewed and my appreciation for the simple things exponentially multiplied. I’ve seen enough palaces and forts to last a lifetime with pictures to prove it. I’ve seen the world’s biggest clock and the world’s biggest silver jar (seriously). My nights have consisted of movies and television shows about old English people with my dear sister and father. My days were filled with walks around Vasant Vihar taking pictures of all the Embassies I could find. I’ve seen a woman balancing 5 pots on her head and dancing to the music of her seemingly mentally ill sons. My vacation has shown me crazy men who beg for money exist all around the globe. With all that said I wouldn’t move India to the top of my vacation list, but I am grateful for the new friends made and time well spent.

ameer2

This week’s guest blogger is Ameer Allen. Born and raised in Newark, NJ, he is a twenty-three year old Lincoln University grad, history buff, and diehard Cowboys fan.

(He’s also my hilariously funny big little brother.)